Archive for January, 2013

January 28, 2013

Maps are false

by Neil Rickert

This is intended as a companion to my recent post “Kepler’s laws are false.”

I have, in front of me, a Rand McNally road atlas of the Chicago area.  It is a few years old, so a tad out of date.  But it is not that “out of date” aspect that I will be discussing.

I am currently looking at the part of the map that covers near where I live.  I see that some of the roads are red in the map.  But when I drive on those roads, they are the same gray/black color as most of the other roads (such as the ones shown as yellow or white in the map).

January 28, 2013

HSW – Kepler’s laws are false

by Neil Rickert

While my title line might seem dramatic, I want to be clear that this post is not intended as a criticism of Kepler, or of Kepler’s laws.  Rather, it is critical of the view that scientific laws are true descriptions of the world.  This post is intended as part of my series on how science works.  My aim is to describe my own understanding of Kepler’s laws.

The basis of Kepler’s laws

In case some of my readers are not familiar with them, Kepler’s laws are an attempt to account for the motion of the planets in our solar system.  Kepler’s laws were preceded by the Ptolemaic idea that the planets moved in cycles and epicycles.  Galileo argued, instead for the idea of Copernicus, that the planets traveled in circular paths around the sun.  I presume that Kepler was looking for something a little more precise than the Copernican circles.

January 19, 2013

The silliness of free will denial

by Neil Rickert

Over at his blogwebsite – Jerry Coyne has proposed a thought experment:

He starts by asserting that we have no free will.  And then Coyne asks his readers which of two options they would choose.

Then Coyne goes ahead and exercises his own free will, by choosing the first of those options.  Some of the commenters do likewise.  Other commenters exercise their free will to point out that the whole idea of making a choice is contrary to free will.

I guess I still have that quaint old fashioned idea that scientists are supposed to go by evidence.  And the evidence is that people spend much of their time making choices.


January 13, 2013

On belief and trust

by Neil Rickert

Over at the “Triangulations” blog, Sabio Lantz has a new post “Believing Mind vs. Religious Mind” on why he now thinks that “believing mind” is the better of the two terms.  In explaining his preference, Sabio writes:

Believing without evidence is our default mode. Well, I shouldn’t call it “without evidence” because believing something because someone in authority said it or because it intuitively makes sense to us, is indeed a sort of evidence — though it is a very low level of evidence.

January 10, 2013

HSW – Against induction

by Neil Rickert

In this post, I shall argue against induction.  Specifically, I shall argue against what I referred to as “philosophic induction” in a recent post.  My earlier post — “All emeralds are green” — was intended to illustrate the view that I shall be presenting here.  I suggest you read that now, if you have not already done so.  Throughout this post, I shall assume familiarity with that story.

That emeralds are green has sometimes been used to illustrate the idea of induction.  Presumably, the argument would be:

  • All the many emeralds that I have seen were green;
  • Therefore all emeralds are green.

Interestingly, emeralds were also used by Nelson Goodman in his skeptical “grue” argument.

January 10, 2013

All emeralds are green

by Neil Rickert

This is a completely made up story, that I intend to reference in a future post about induction.

Long, long ago in the small village of D’La Mere, the residents lived a relatively simple life.  They were employed in a number of different kinds of work.  Some of them would go daily to the village quarry, and collect pebbles that they could spread on their walking paths to inhibit the growth of weeds and to keep the paths from becoming muddy when it rained.

While Peter, one of the residents, was at the quarry loading gravel into his wheelbarrow, he noticed a green glint in one of those pebbles.  Looking more closely, he could see something green and perhaps crystalline behind a rocky outer crust.  He pocketed that pebble, and later took it to his friend David, a craftsman.  David was able to chip away the outer rocky crust to reveal the gleaming green part that remained.  He made it into an ornament that Peter could give to his girlfriend.

On receiving the ornament, Peter’s girlfriend Angela said “That’s very nice of you, Peter.  So what shall I call this?”  After thinking for a moment, Peter replied, “If we spell the name of our town backwards, we can use that and call it an emerald.”  “I love that name,” said Angela, giving Peter a kiss.

Word soon spread through the small village, and before long several of the residents had found emeralds.  Making emerald rings and bracelets was becoming a cottage industry.  The village mayor was very pleased at this.  So he asked Peter, “What can you tell me about emeralds?”  And Peter replied, “Since we find them by looking for the glint of green light reflecting from them, we can say that all emeralds are green.”

January 8, 2013

Perception – categorization

by Neil Rickert

I have mentioned categorization in earlier posts, suggesting that it is important.  The trouble with the words “category” and “categorization” is that people use them in different and conflicting ways.  And that is perhaps why the importance of categorization is not well appreciated.

Ian, over at his “Irreducible Complexity” blog, has just posted something about categories that illustrates the different ways that categorization is used.

January 6, 2013

Granville Sewell is still an embarrassment

by Neil Rickert

When I last posted about Granville Sewell, I made a joke about it.  Sadly, Sewell is still at it.  As a mathematician, I am embarrassed when a fellow mathematician says something so foolish.  I suppose I shouldn’t be — it is well known that people can be very intelligent in their mathematics, yet make very unwise decisions elsewhere in their lives.

Sewell’s latest effort is “Just Too Simple,” posted at the Uncommon Descent blog.  It presents a youtube video (just under 15 minutes) with an updated version of his old argument about a tornado running backward.  I am not sure who is narrating the video, but since the narrator refers to Sewell in the third person, I assume that Sewell is not narrating it himself.

January 4, 2013

Connecting science with perception

by Neil Rickert

I have two ongoing series of posts, one on perception and the other on how science works.  These are very much connected, as I will explain in this post.

My interest in the main topics of this blog led me to study the question of how humans learn.  I understood, all along, that the increase in scientific knowledge is closely related to learning.  Or, as I think Quine puts it, science is learning writ large.  Thus I used the growth of scientific knowledge as a publicly observable instance of learning.

January 3, 2013

Perception – discrimination

by Neil Rickert

Perceptual discrimination is the act of distinguishing between different items that are in the perceptual field.  In this post, part of my series on perception, I will look at barcode scanning to illustrate what discrimination is, and its role.  And I will use this example to further clarify the distinction between direct perception and indirect perception, at least as I use those terms.

These days, we see bar codes on many of the items that we purchase.  And the store clerk typically uses a scanner to read that bar code and identify which item we are purchasing.